At the funeral Mass for Michael Nnadi, the 18-year-old seminarian abducted and killed by gunmen last month, Bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah of Sokoto said he hoped the death would be a turning point for persecuted Christians in Nigeria.
“This is a solemn moment for the body of Christ,” Kukah said in his Feb. 11 homily at Good Shepherd Seminary in Kaduna, where Nnadi had studied. The text of the homily was obtained through Aid to the Church in Need United States.
“This is for us the moment of decision. This is the moment that separates darkness from light, good from evil. Our nation is like a ship stranded on the high seas, rudderless and with broken navigational aids. Today, our years of hypocrisy, duplicity, fabricated integrity, false piety, empty morality, fraud and Pharisaism have caught up with us. Nigeria is on the crossroads and its future hangs precariously in a balance. This is a wakeup call for us,” he said.
Nnadi was taken by gunmen from Good Shepherd Seminary around 10:30 pm on Jan. 8, along with fellow seminarians Pius Kanwai, 19; Peter Umenukor, 23; and Stephen Amos, 23. The four seminarians were at the beginning of their philosophy studies.
The gunmen, disguised in military camouflage, broke through the fence surrounding the seminarians’ living quarters and began shooting sporadically. They stole laptops and phones before kidnapping the four young men. All but Nnadi were released by the end of January.
The exact details of Nnadi’s death are unknown, the bishop said, other than he was killed alongside a woman named Mrs. Araga. Kukah noted that for days after Nnadi’s capture, he and Nnadi’s family held out hope that he was still alive. On Feb. 1, Kukah announced that Nnadi had been found dead.
Kukah said he was inspired by Nnadi’s mother’s reaction to the terrible news.
“She looked up at me and said tearfully, ‘My Lord, you said Michael was still alive. Is he really dead?’” he recalled. “Before I could say anything, she provided a moving answer: ‘My Lord, but Michael entered Seminary with all his heart and body, all’, she said with finality.”
Kukah said he was also moved and honored by the reaction to Nnadi’s death, both nationally and internationally.
“(The Aid to the Church in Need) sent me a message to say that when they asked people around the world to light a candle for Michael on the date of his burial, 2,436 persons from Afghanistan, Pakistan, United States of America, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, Madagascar, South Africa, Congo, Mali, France, Spain, Turkey, Saudi Arabia responded,” he said.
“In the light of this, I wondered, who are we to mourn? Who are we to refuse this crown of honour and glory? We ceased to mourn for Michael thereon,” he said, adding that he decided to see the martyrdom as an act of honor and victory for Christians.
Good Shepherd Seminary, home to nearly 270 seminarians, is located just off the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria Express Way. According to AFP, the area is “notorious for criminal gangs kidnapping travelers for ransom.”
Schoolgirls and staff from a boarding school located near the same highway were kidnapped in October, and were later released.
In the last year, several priests and seminarians, along with pastors from other Christian denominations, have been kidnapped in Nigeria, some for ranson, and some by Islamist militant and terrorist groups. Kidnappings of Christians have multiplied in recent months, prompting Nigerian Church leaders to express serious concern about the security of their members and to call on the government to prioritize the security of its citizens.
Nnadi’s death should be a decisive moment for all Nigerian Christians, who have suffered severe persecution and instability under the rule of President General Muhammadu Buhari, whose promises for peace and security in the nation have fallen woefully short, Kukah said in his homily.
“No one could have imagined that in winning the Presidency, General Buhari would bring nepotism and clannishness into the military and the ancillary Security Agencies, that his government would be marked by supremacist and divisive policies that would push our country to the brink,” Kukah said.
“This President has displayed the greatest degree of insensitivity in managing our country’s rich diversity. He has subordinated the larger interests of the country to the hegemonic interests of his co-religionists and clansmen and women. The impression created now is that, to hold a key and strategic position in Nigeria today, it is more important to be a northern Muslim than a Nigerian,” he added.
“His north has become one large graveyard, a valley of dry bones, the nastiest and the most brutish part of our dear country.”
Kukah noted that this abuse of power has been condemned by many Muslim leaders and intellectuals, though not to much effect.
“We are being told that this situation has nothing to do with religion,” Kukah said. “Really? It is what happens when politicians use religion to extend the frontiers of their ambition and power. Are we to believe that simply because Boko Haram kills Muslims too, they wear no religious garb? Are we to deny the evidence before us, of kidnappers separating Muslims from infidels or compelling Christians to convert or die? If your son steals from me, do you solve the problem by saying he also steals from you?”
Kukah then echoed the call of Sa’adu Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto, a spiritual leader to Muslims in Nigeria who has spoken out against the persecutions, for the northern political elite to reclaim their land.
The persecution of Christians and other minority groups in Nigeria is not new, Kukah added, and has been ongoing since the founding of modern-day Nigeria. But it cannot be ignored by Christians any longer, he added.
“We Christians must be honest enough to accept that we have taken so much for granted and made so much sacrifice in the name of nation-building,” he said, noting how Christians have supported various state leaders, mistakenly believing they would bring peace and stability to Nigeria.
“For how long shall we continue on this road with different ambitions? Christians must rise up and defend their faith with all the moral weapons they have,” he said. “We must become more robust in presenting the values of Christianity especially our message of love and non-violence to a violent society. Among the wolves of the world, we must become more politically alert, wise as the serpent and humble as the dove.”
However, this does not mean resorting to vengeance and violence, which are “the ways of the flesh,” he said.
Instead, Christians must “put back your sword. Turn the other cheek. Pray for your enemy. Give the thief your cloak,” he said.
“None of these makes sense to the human mind without faith. This is why Jesus said the only solution is for us to be born again. The challenge before us is to behold the face of Jesus and ask the question: Are we born against hatred, anger, violence and vengeance?”
He acknowledged the anger and sadness and betrayal felt by all Christians in Nigeria, but again encouraged them to pursue non-violent solutions.
“The only way He has pointed out to us is the non-violent way. It is the road less traveled, but it is the only way,” Kukah said.
He encouraged all Christians in Nigeria to look to Nnadi and to other young Christians killed in recent months as examples of courage, hope, and faith.
“For us Christians, it would seem safe to say that we are all marked men and women today. Yet, we must be ready to be washed in the blood of the lamb,” he said.
“We feel as if our son has been chosen to represent us in the national team of martyrs. Without fear, we will complete the journey he started because his memory will give us strength,” he said.
“We know that Michael’s strength will inspire an army of young people to follow in his steps. We will march on with the cross of Christ entrusted to us, not in agony or pain, because our salvation lies in your cross. We have no vengeance or bitterness in our hearts. We have no drop of sorrow inside us. We are honored that our son has been summoned to receive the crown of martyrdom at the infancy of his journey to the priesthood,” he added.
“May the Lord place him beside His bosom and may he intercede for us. If his blood can bring healing to our nation, then his murderers will never have the final say. May God give him eternal peace.”